Published: December 23rd 2011December 23rd 2011
Arriving back into Europe after 7 months in Asia was a strange feeling. Relief would be the wrong word because China was, for the most part, good fun, but just sitting in Milan airport waiting for a transfer to Budapest, as ridiculous as it sounds, I felt a definite sense of 'it's nice to be home' about the whole thing. Home, there, being used in it's loosest sense given that I've never even been to Italy - it's amazing how small Europe becomes in your head when you do stuff like this.
Before I got to Budapest I had absolutely no image in my head for what to expect. Most European capitals throw up some kind of mental picture I think, Berlin - chocolate, art, squatters; Edinburgh - majestic beauty and drunk people; Oslo - Liverpool fans - so it seemed odd that I drew a blank when it came to Budapest, and even more odd once I arrived and saw just how beautiful this place is. At first I didn't know if I was just clinging on to anything that looked vaguely old/authentic after being starved of these things for the previous 6 months due to China's
gung-ho attitude to anything built before 1980 - with a couple of notable exceptions - but after almost three months here now, it is still the prettiest place I've ever been to.
Undoubtedly, the most striking thing is the Parliament building which is on the banks of the Danube, and is probably the best looking building I've ever seen. I have been lucky enough to walk past it on the way to and from work just about everyday since I moved here and I'm still not tired of staring at it. To be fair though, when I'm looking at it, my main thoughts are about whether there is a better place to tell ghost stories in the world (this is a common thought of mine when I see any big old building, anywhere) and just how good would a game of extreme hide and seek be in there? The answer is pretty damn good.
The Hungarians, or at least the Budapestians(?) do seem to like a statue or a monument as well. Some commemorate war heroes or people who've had a huge historical impact on the place (like the guy who first brought Christianity
to Hungary, then ruled by the Pagans, and was promptly put in a barrel and thrown into the Danube), some commemorate more famous modern Hungarians like Puskas, Zsa Zsa Gabor (probably, somewhere), and .....errrrrrr........ Puskas, and then some commemorate people who have no clear connection at all, such as Elvis Presley. Now, my knowledge of 1960s American rock and roll isn't what some would say it should be, but I'm not aware of any connection that is substantial enough to justify naming a street or a square after him and others, and as for Michael Jackson, well, your guess is as good as mine. On the other hand, it does somehow seem cheeky enough to make you want it to work as a tourism tool. If more cities went down this road, if nothing else it would be a more interesting world because who wouldn't like to visit Nelson Mandela market in Lincoln or Pele Square in Grimsby.
The thing I guess you may know Budapest for is one of those places like Prague or Bratislava which, thanks to cheap flights from Britain has supposedly turned into the type of place where lads with matching tshirts, trendy
mullet haircuts and a love for beer, casual racism and that Paddy McGuinness show on ITV, come to be abhorrent in a different city to the one they would usually infest. This is kind of true and if you're in the touristy part of town at the weekend you can't really avoid it, but there is so much more to the place than that!
The faded glamour of some of the buildings and the beauty of the architecture are the things that you just can't fail to admire about the place. With the buildings, the idea seems to be, to do just enough so they don't fall down in a light wind, but that is it. Some people I've spoken to think this makes them look old and dated, which it does, but in the same that York or Chester could be said to look like that, but really that is where the charm lies and is the reason that it feels like a kind of treat or privilege to be able to walk around the place, seeing statues of people, from old Warlords (in Heroes Square, our favourite hero is depicted on a horse who has
a full set of antlers on his head while he himself has some kind of winged helmet! Who wouldn't want to be remembered like that?!) to the inventor of the Rubiks Cube and to see buildings that are as intricately designed as palaces which actually just turn out to be Chinese fast food places or 'some blokes house' - a bloke, incidentally, who did not appreciate me turning up at midnight asking if I could read ghost stories in his front room.
There are more photos below